As the 2013-14 NBA season winds down, it’s clear that a number of teams are already looking ahead to the 2014 NBA Draft. At this point, certain teams seem more concerned with getting ping pong balls than wins, which is understandable considering this is a very talented class that may include a number of franchise-changing players at the top of the draft board.
NBA decision-makers have now had months to evaluate the draft’s top prospects, so executives and scouts have a pretty good read on each player. While March Madness will certainly influence their opinions as well, the sample size is big enough for people in NBA circles to break down a player.
Basketball Insiders wanted to see what NBA talent evaluators are saying about this draft class and its top prospects, so we caught up with an Eastern Conference scout to get his take on the 2014 NBA Draft. The scout spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the situation.
On the 2014 NBA Draft as a whole:
“It’s a good draft. There isn’t a consensus prize at the top of the draft – no LeBron James or Derrick Rose or Kyrie Irving – which means the team that gets the No. 1 pick will have a difficult decision to make.
“This draft is much, much better than last year’s draft. There’s no doubt about that. I believe this draft class will have multiple All-Stars, whereas last year’s draft may not produce a single All-Star.
“Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle have failed to live up to expectations, but they are still very talented players. They may not have played as well as everyone hoped this season, but they all have a chance to be special players and have long, successful NBA careers. Even though they didn’t blow everyone away, they are all so young and they all have a ton of potential.
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“There’s no question that this is an important draft. A lot of teams are hoping to land a player that they can build around in this draft. It’s also a big deal because of the importance of rookie deals in the new collective bargaining agreement.
“In a draft like this, with so many intriguing prospects, the best pick may be No. 3 or No. 4 so that you can just see who falls to you rather than having to make that tough choice.”
On Andrew Wiggins:
“He’s lightning quick and he has one of the best first steps that I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t get his shoulders low, he stands straight up and down and is kind of mechanical when he plays. He also has a tendency to settle for jump shots. He’s extremely athletic, though, and he can get by anyone.
“I’m not sure about his body language. He’s not a pouter or anything, but it just seems like he’s either happy or overwhelmed. I’d like to see him get angry and fired up. I really haven’t seen any competitive emotion from him.
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“I think he has a high ceiling, but I don’t think he’ll be a LeBron James or Kevin Durant type of player like some people are projecting. I could see him making a major impact on a team because he is such a great athlete, he can get by anybody and he shows flashes of brilliance. Every so often, he’ll make an incredible move and then you just don’t see it again for a long time. That consistency has to improve.
“He was put in a difficult position this year because all eyes were on him and the expectations were through the roof. He failed to live up to the hype, but he can still become a very good player who has a successful career in the NBA.
“He’s still so young and has so much room to grow, so it’s difficult to say what his ceiling will be. I’ve heard some people say that his upside is Tracy McGrady or Paul George, which makes sense. I could also see him becoming a lot like Rudy Gay.”
On Jabari Parker:
“Jabari is a player who scares teams. You’re scared to pass on him because he has the ‘it’ factor, smoothness and intangibles. Nobody says a bad thing about him. Even players in the league who know him speak very positively about him. He seems like a great kid and someone who would be great in a locker room. He’s very talented.
“The reason you’re scared to take him is because there is a history of players who played the four in college whose games haven’t translated to the NBA, such as Michael Beasley or Derrick Williams. There’s some concern that he’ll struggle and become a tweener. The best thing for him is that players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce have been moving over to power forward lately and thriving in the position, because it shows teams that having a player like that at the four can work.
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“Still, there are questions about Parker’s body and athleticism. He’s not the quickest guy and his athleticism has been questioned. He’s had some explosive moments, but there are a lot of times when he doesn’t look like a good athlete. Teams will likely want to change his body and conditioning once he gets to the NBA.
“He was shooting the ball really well early in the season, which skewed his numbers, but he has come back down to earth lately. I think he’ll be a very good player in the NBA, but I don’t know if he can be a franchise-changing savior that some people peg him to be. My NBA comparison for him is Paul Pierce.”
On Joel Embiid:
“He has had the biggest impact on this draft so far. Entering the season, the conversation was about Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle, and then scouts starting falling for Embiid. Scouts were falling in love with him and then looking over their shoulder hoping that no other teams were noticing how great he looked. Obviously, he kept improving and the secret got out.
“He’s able to do so many things at his size that nobody else can. He has amazing footwork, great athleticism, nice touch and a beautiful stroke on his shot. He may have the highest upside in the draft because he still has so much room to grow.
“His footwork reminds me of Hakeem Olajuwon and his power, outside shot and skills remind me a little of Patrick Ewing. He could be really, really good.
“I do think the pressure of being hyped up as the consensus No. 1 pick did start to get to him a little bit. He hasn’t been the same player recently. Yes, he’s had the health issues, but he doesn’t seem as loose and his demeanor has changed. A team will definitely have to look into his background and learn about him before using such a high pick on him.
“The back issue is kind of scary too for a big man. You never want to see that in a young center. The team that picks him will have to look into that and make sure it’s not something that’s going to limit him.”
On Dante Exum:
“I have seen him play live a limited number of times, but I have to say that he’s really intriguing. He has a legitimate chance to go No. 1 in this draft. He’s that good. His upside is enormous. I won’t be surprised if he goes No. 1 on draft night. If we land the No. 1 pick, he’s a guy who we’re seriously going to look at.
“There is nothing that suggests that he won’t be a great player. He’s athletic, he can shoot and he can handle the ball. He’s incredibly versatile. He really can play three positions, which is attractive to a lot of teams. I’m excited to watch him develop and see what kind of player he becomes.
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“He hasn’t played against great competition yet, but he’s a phenomenal prospect and I think his game will translate well to the NBA. I think he’ll be an All-Star in this league.
“When I see him, I think his upside is Anfernee Hardaway. I could see him being a similar type player, someone who is able to impact a game in many ways and cause a lot of problems for opposing teams.”
On Julius Randle:
“He’s a man, and he won’t get pushed around by other players. He has the ability to face up and take guys off of the dribble. Right now, he’s left-hand dominant, so he must work on his right hand and keep improving his jumper if he wants to take the next step and really wreak havoc.
“I really think he’s someone who will benefit from playing with a better team. If you watch Kentucky, their point guard play and shooters have been bad, which has made things really tough for him. The team is a mess. It’s a chaotic situation since there isn’t much leadership and the group is so inexperienced.
“He should be able to play in the league for a really long time, but the question is how good will he be?
“People around the league are really interested to see how he measures out – how tall and how long he is. You’d love if he could play the three to utilize his ball handling and skills, but that’s not his game.
“When I look at Randle, I see some Jamal Mashburn and some Paul Millsap.”
On Marcus Smart:
“He’s one of those guys who has been over scouted. It’s tough being under the microscope for two seasons. He’s had to deal with tons of pressure. With that said, you could put him in an NBA game right now and he’d be alright.
“He’s a great athlete, very strong, and I really like his game. His shooting will come along, the question is how much? He’ll benefit from having NBA talent around him at the next level; that should help him as a facilitator and he won’t have to carry the scoring load like he is now.
“Look how bad that team was without him. I think that says a lot about his impact on a team. When I see him, I see a mix between Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups in terms of his body type and leadership and fire. I think he’s going to be a very good player. He has All-Star potential.
“A lot of people have asked me if I’m concerned about the ‘fan pushing’ incident. Not at all. Honestly, I kind of liked it. I love that he gets fired up, that he gets that competitive. Others may not have liked it, but I love the intensity.
“His decision to go back to school this year says a lot about who he is. The biggest fear for an NBA team is that we’re going to draft a kid and then he’ll lose his hunger right when he gets a paycheck. I’m not worried about that with Smart. He had a chance to get a payday last year and turned it down because he wanted to stick with his team and keep improving at the collegiate level. That says a lot about him.”
On Noah Vonleh:
“Vonleh is a very interesting player. He needs time to develop, but he could end up being really good. I would definitely say he has All-Star potential. The upside is there.
“He can score with both hands, he has an outside shot and he’s a long, great athlete. He hasn’t had the chance to be a go-to guy at Indiana because their point guard shoots the ball a lot, but this is a kid who has all of the tools to be very special and he’s so young.
“Because he just turned 18 years old in August, it’s easy to see why a team would fall in love with him. He’s younger than a lot of the other prospects at the top of the draft, and he just has so much potential.
“He hasn’t gotten the same amount of attention as some of the other players on this list, but he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on. A few years from now, he could be one of the best players from this class and an All-Star. The tools are there for him to be great.”